By Reid Southwick

The Liberal government is set to place educational toys and games into the homes of New Brunswick families to better prepare children for kindergarten. The move is part the province’s commitment to streamline the education process by setting new standards at key levels of a student’s development to ensure they progress on par with their peers.

“It is our goal that every student will arrive at kindergarten ready to learn,” Education Minister Kelly Lamrock said Tuesday.

Lamrock announced the government’s five-year education plan at the Devon Middle School auditorium in Fredericton. The plan includes a promise to add 26 teaching positions for early childhood education over the next two years. For students who are not in day-care programs, the province will ensure families have educational tools, such as toys and games, to guarantee their children will develop at a normal level.

Lamrock said the government will invest in screening clinics that will test pre-school children’s competency before they arrive at school. For those who fall short of the mark, the Department of Education in consultation with parents will tailor additional training programs before the child’s first day of school.

The province’s commitment also includes a mandate to establish partnerships with the private sector and community representatives, including First Nations, to offer parents more resources to prepare their children for school. The early education plan will be enforced by accountability measures that guarantee by 2013, all children attending kindergarten will be ready for school, and 80 per cent of students who require additional training programs have them in place upon arrival in September.

The acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said in an interview that legislating how children are educated before they reach the classroom takes government interference in citizens’ lives too far.

“Somehow the public education system is going to dictate how you should be raising your kids,” said Charles Cirtwill. “That’s naïve.”

Cirtwill said the government simply cannot assume that families would take advantage of the learning tools provided to them.

“The real challenge is to encourage them to grow and develop in their own way,” he said.

But Indu Varma, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, said in an interview that many children are arriving at the province’s schools without the baseline of knowledge they need to begin their formal education.

“For us, the big concern when children arrive at our doorstep is that we would like to see them ready to learn,” she said. “Currently, what is happening when children arrive to school, they are not quite ready.”

Varma said many new students lack the social and linguistic skills needed for educational environment.

“Therefore, they are not starting where they should be starting,” she said.

The Department of Education, said Varma, needs to set up a sufficient support system for those students who lag behind, which the Liberals committed to on Tuesday.

“We have to get them caught up first where they should be before we can get to where our program starts.”